Doctors are urging decision-makers to take sustained action to connect Australia's children in adversity with specialist medical care and social and education services.
During the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' (RACP) 2018 Congress today, paediatricians Professor Sharon Goldfeld and Associate Professor Sue Woolfenden launched a new position paper, discussing ways to tackle inequities in child health.
"Children who experience health inequities don't have the same opportunities as their peers and they don't have fair access to health care," Professor Goldfeld explained.
"This could be due to social determinants such as socioeconomic status or geography that also limits access to healthcare and specialist services.
"We know disadvantage leads to poorer health, wellbeing and developmental outcomes that can have a lasting effect throughout people's lives. The lack of access to services only makes things worse.
"The research suggests that the first eight years of a child's life is critical. This is the time where we need to reach these disadvantaged populations and treat physical illness as well as learning, behavioural and developmental problems."
The Inequities in Child Health position paper focuses on ensuring all children receive the healthcare access that they need based on their circumstances.
The paper makes a number of recommendations for governments (Commonwealth and State and Territory) in Australia as well as New Zealand to improve health outcomes among families living in disadvantage.
The RACP recommends:
- Federal, State and Territory Governments commit to new investment in child health services that are universal and are prioritised according to patient needs.
- Appointment of a national Chief Paediatrician to provide clinical leadership in strategy, policy and programs across paediatric healthcare in Australia.
- The Federal Government report annually and transparently against the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Children's Headline Indicators. The Prime Minister should be sharing these outcomes and keeping governments accountable for ensuring the health, development and wellbeing of all children.
Associate Professor Woolfenden said addressing inequities in child health care needs to be a collaborative effort between governments, health and social service providers and paediatricians.
"Parents can't do this alone," Associate Professor Woolfenden said. "As a community and as paediatricians, we have a responsibility to ensure these children have adequate access to child healthcare and support services.
"Governments and health services need to invest in services for children from disadvantaged environments and ensure these services are prioritised according to patient needs."
The Australian Early Development Census shows one in five children across Australia are experiencing developmental difficulties when they first start school. The gap between disadvantaged children and other children has also widened when it comes to physical health and social competence.
View the 'Inequities in Child Health position paper' here.